Today we observe All Saint's Day, a time to thank God for showing examples of his grace through people like Father Abraham, King David, Saint Peter, and Saint Mary Magdalene. They are great teachers to us today. We also look to them to strengthen our faith. When we see Peter forgiven after his great denial, we can believe that God's grace does abound more than sin. The third reason we remember the saints is so that we can imitate their good examples. We do not pray to saints, since we have no indication in Scripture that they can hear us. Beside, the Bible does tell us that there is but one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ to whom we give all honor for our salvation. Nevertheless, the saints are remembered by the Church as treasures of God.
Today's sermon is based on Hymn 192 in the Lutheran Worship hymnal, Behold a Host Arrayed in White. This hymn comes to us from Norway, written about 250 years ago by a man named Hans Brorson. The tune is from an old Norwegian folksong made popular by composer Edvard Grieg.
Behold a host arrayed in white, like thousand snow-clad mountains bright. They stand with palms and sing their psalms before the throne of light. These are the saints who kept God's Word. They are the honored of the Lord. He is their prince who drowned their sins, so they were cleansed, restored. They now serve God both day and night. They sing their songs in endless light. Their anthems ring when they all sing with angels shining bright.
Stanza 1 reminds me of a trip through Grand Teton National Park. From across the lake one sees many tremendous snow capped mountain tops as far as the eye can see.
Here in this hymn we have this image. The mountains range is the family to which we belong gathered around the throne of God in heaven. They hold the palm branches of victory, singing praise to God in eternal light.
What is a saint? A person who God has made holy. It's important to remember that saints do not make themselves holy by what they've done themselves. Just as we stumble and fall before God daily, so did they. Bible is full of examples of this.
Saints are holy because God took away their sins. When Jesus said, Blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, he is not telling his hearers that they will be blessed by God because they are such pillars of society. . . They have not been merciful or pure in heart, and neither have we. He's pointing out how much they need a savior. We may feel pretty secure about ourselves when we compare ourselves to other people . . . we aren't in jail, beating people up, or robbing banks. But when we compare ourselves to the perfect example of Jesus, we see what great sinners we really are.
These in heaven have been cleansed, washed by Christ. "He is their prince who drowned their sins, So they were cleansed restored." We have to remember that good works don't make saints, God does through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
If you believe that Jesus died to wash away your sins, then you are a saint too. You have been cleansed for a purpose. Not to serve yourself, but to serve God with whatever time you have left. The events of September 11 remind us how fragile life is. God calls us to live for him, to serve him by loving and caring for others around us.
The saints in heaven serve God by singing his praises, and we serve here in the same way. We sing his praise at church with our voices, we sing his praise at home when we follow his will for our lives, we sing his praise away from home when we witness to others of his love for them. Let us sing stanza 1.
On earth their work was not thought wise, but see them now in heaven's eyes. Before God's throne of precious stone they shout their victory cries. On earth they wept through bitter years. Now God has wiped away their tears, transformed their strife to heaven's life and freed them from their fears. For now they have the best at last. They keep their sweet eternal feast. At God's right hand Our Lord commands. He is both host and guest.
Stanza 2 points out the contrast between the difficult life we saints face on earth and the joyous life we have waiting for us in heaven. Being a Christian is hard today. It has always been hard. Our society today is open minded to everything except the Christian claim that there is no other way to eternal life than through faith in Jesus Christ as the only true God. We will take criticism from every corner when we let it be known we are Christians. But we must not falter. We cannot be friends with the world and friends with God. They get jealous of each other. The world wants us to forget God, forget the Ten Commandments, forget that we will not be living here much longer. The world wants us to keep our minds focused on it.
God wants us to set our minds on higher things. Can you picture the saints singing around the throne of God, rejoicing and free from all fear and danger. We can cling to that picture when we are worried, afraid, and saddened by what's happening around us in the world. We are citizens of heaven.
Somebody said there are only two kinds of people in the world, those wake up in the morning and say "Good morning, Lord," and those that wake up in the morning and say, "Good Lord, it's morning."
Remembering the great scene in heaven where everything is peace and joy will strengthen us to deal with our problems. We can see the goal that Jesus has for us. We are destined to be in that picture. We sing verse 2.
O Blessed saints, now take your rest. A thousand times shall you be blest for keeping faith firm unto death and scorning worldly trust. For now you live at home with God. You harvest seeds once cast abroad in tears and sighs. See with new eyes the pattern in the seed. The myriad angels raise their song. O saints, sing with that happy throng. Lift up one voice. Let heaven rejoice in our Redeemer's song.
Verse 3 reminds us that the saints are now at rest. By the strength of God's word they kept the faith while they were here. Now they rest. They did not trust in the world to save them, not in money, riches, popular opinions, or any otherworldly strength. They trusted in Jesus. And Jesus kept his word.
Think of how the saints of old were oppressed! They were ridiculed, laughed at, chased out of their homes, stolen from, beaten, and killed. Yet, they kept the faith and entered into eternal peace. They did not lose - they won! And so can we when we put our trust in Jesus and follow him.
Each time they trusted in God was like a seed. It was planted in the ground in suffering. But now in heaven they see it has grown into a great tree loaded with good fruit. And they see with their new eyes that there is a pattern in how the seeds were planted, which they couldn't see then. God had his purposes for them.
The saints are not alone. They are joined in heaven by all the angels and archangels in all their majesty. The same angels who sing with us when we sing their holy song at the Supper of our Lord, "Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory."
They sing before the Lamb, Jesus Christ, in all his glory and splendor. And we sing here, before Jesus, who is with us also, however hidden in the preaching of his word and in the bread and wine of His supper. But God is with us, just the same, washing away our sins and declaring us to be his holy ones.
St. John once wrote: "Dear friends, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1John 3:1-2)
Let us sing verse 3.
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